Wilson and Gochanour

Heather Wilson (left) and Therese Gochanour (right) at Anchorage Fire Department Station 12.

ANCHORAGE — The Anchorage Fire Department Station 12 bustled with excitement Wednesday as the data systems unit received special recognitions for their important contributions, particularly for their instrumental work during the Nov. 30, 2018, earthquake.

Two Mat-Su Valley residents received awards, including the unit leader Heather Wilson, who lives Palmer. Wilson and her colleague from Wasilla, Therese Gochanour, were honored during the ceremony, surrounded by family and friends.

“The primary reason is to recognize our data systems staff for all the hard work that they do to keep the machine, which is AFD running. We are a very tech heavy department,” Anchorage Fire Dept. Chief Jodie Hettrick said.

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When it comes to emergency response, time is of the essence. Every second matters when fire crews respond to fires and other emergencies. Hettrick said that having the most up to date technology with a savvy tech crew is vital. She said it’s how they provide the most efficient service to the community.

“In order to do that, we have to have people who are really focused on maintaining all of the technology so our rigs can get to them fast,” Hettrick said.

The data systems staff for AFD is very small but very important, according to Hettrick. She said the four-person crew manages all of the technology for the entire department.

“That’s not many people considering the services we’re providing. They’re very efficient and they manage to keep us all running,” Hettrick said.

The Anchorage Fire IT crew was instrumental during the November 2018 earthquake. Hettrick said that during the quake, basically all of their technology crashed but the IT crew was able to get everything up and running within hours.

“That was phenomenal,” Hettrick said.

Wilson and her unit handle the emergency dispatch system for the Anchorage Municipality, which goes all the way from Girdwood to the Knik Bridge.

“It’s a pretty sophisticated system. We know where all the units are. We dispatch the closest unit with the right resources to the emergencies, do all the mapping on the computers, the cellphones- all the IT stuff,” Wilson said.

Wilson has been with AFD for five years and the Anchorage Municipality for 12 years. She said her unit is currently working to upgrade the dispatch software. They recently installed Next Generation 911, or NG911.

NG911 enhances emergency number services by establishing a faster, more resilient system that allows digital information to flow seamlessly from the public through the 911 network.

Wilson said they’re also in process of moving their entire infrastructure to First Net, a nationwide first responder cellular and data network that gives them priority, which is especially helpful during disasters since phone lines get jammed due to the high call volume.

The ceremony in Anchorage was the bittersweet final chapter for Gochanour, who received a special commendation for 30 years of service with the municipality. She retired last week. She said that she enjoyed working with AFD the last five years.

“It’s a very forward thinking department,” Gochanour said.

Wilson and Gochanour’s efforts primarily aid AFD, but major emergencies like the 2018 earthquake and the McKinley and Deshka wildfires demand cross over collaboration between departments. Their efforts benefited the Valley time after time and their legacy ultimately helps Alaskans everywhere.

“Even though they work for the Municipality of Anchorage, they are hometown unsung heroes.” Wilson and Gochanour’s friend, DanaLyn Dalrymple stated via email.

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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